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September 17, 1999


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Constituency/ Jehanabad

Where power flows from the barrel of a gun

Tara Shankar Sahay

The threat by the Naxalite groups, Maoist Communist Centre and Party Unity, to disrupt the polls in Jehanabad has elicited an immediate response. Bihar Police commandos now patrol even far-flung areas of this parliamentary constituency, minutely searching each passing vehicle for arms.

About 11 kilometres from Jehanabad town on the highway, my taxi is stopped. Two commandos ask me to get out. The driver is asked to open the boot. And then all hell breaks out.

One commando, armed with a sten-gun, pulls out the tool box containing a wrench, screwdriver and the like. Unfortunately for me and the driver, the tool box is an olive green, army-issue ammunition box. Letters painted on it says it is meant for 7.62 mm Self-Loading Rifle cartridges.

The commandos get rough with the driver and collar him. I am asked to explain the presence of the box in the cab. I am told it is a grave offence and that it could land me behind bars.

I politely tell them I am a newsman and that I had hired the cab for covering the polls. The driver, I suggest, ought to be in a better position to give an explanation.

After they verify my bonafides, I am asked to sit in the cab. The driver, Chand Singh, is told he is being detained. My protestations land on deaf ears. Meanwhile more commandos gather and, led by a sub-inspector, grill the driver for a further 20 minutes. He is finally let off with a grim warning. His documents (license, registration papers) are confiscated along with the tool box.

According to Jehanabad's district magistrate Arunish Chawla, the threat of the Left extremist groups is being taken seriously. The administration, he reveals, has already demanded 20 companies of the Central Reserve Police Force to be deployed in sensitive pockets of the constituency. Fact is, the requisitioned guardians of law and order have taken their job a bit too seriously.

On the outskirts of Jehanabad in Nadaul block, about 60 men, women and children gather around me when I inquire for whom they will vote. They are Harijans belonging to the Musar community.

The men say that although they usually vote for the lantern symbol (of Laloo Prasad Yadav's Rashtriya Janata Dal ), they are boycotting the polls this time. Reason? Harassment by the cops who say they have been informed that the Nadaul block Musars are hoarding dangerous firearms.

Samjira Devi with tears in her eyes relates how her 17-year-old son has been hit with riffle butts and lodged in the Masauri jail. "How can we vote when my son is behind bars? We have decided to boycott the elections. Nobody is worth voting for," she fumes.

Chawla points out that the paramilitary forces deployed in Jehanabad are responsible for maintaining law and order and ensuring that the polls are peaceful and isolated incidents by overzealous security force personnel shouldn't be misinterpreted. He adds that the forces detain suspects only on the basis of concrete evidence.

Chawla is closeted with other administration officials in his home-cum-office, fine-tuning arrangements on polling eve.

Despite the plethora of contestants in Jehanabad, it is mainly a triangular fight between the RJD's Surendra Prasad Yadav, the Janata Dal (United)'s Arun Kumar and the Communist Party of India (Marxist Leninist)'s Ramadhar Singh. In keeping with the general trend in Bihar, the issues revolve around local development although the JD-U pays lip-service to the Kargil victory while the RJD reviles it as so much nonsense.

"Laloo wapas lao" (bring back Laloo) and ''Vajpayee lao, desh bacchao'' (bring back Vajpayee and save the nation) are the basic slogans of the RJD and JD-U respectively.

The RJD candidate is optimistic about retaining the seat because of "the unbeatable combination of my support base." He swears by the 275,000 Yadav votes, the 150,000 Muslim votes, a massive portion of the 250,000 Dalit votes and substantial chunks of the Koeri, Kurmi and miscellaneous votes. This parliamentary seat has approximately 1.15 million voters.

The RJD candidate's election agent Dinesh Prasad Sinha reels off the list of local developmental works initiated by Surendra Yadav. "The Rs 200 million Masauri TVC electric project has been sanctioned because of Surendraji's persistence," Sinha claims and points out that he also got approved the Hamidnagar Barrage Scheme which would benefit the locals. "Surendraji has done in just one year what had not been done in the last ten years," he claims, adding that the RJD candidate is determined to see the Ghosi-Islampur bridge also become a reality.

However, people in the six assembly segments of the Jehanabad parliamentary seat -- Arwal, Jehanabad, Kurtha, Makhdoompur and Masauri -- have their own opinion about local development. Says Rajesh Kumar, in Dhanaruwa block in Masauri: "We were looking forward to the TVC project but only the foundation stone has been laid. We don't know whether it will ever fructify."

The JD-U's Arun Kumar, a Bhumihar, turns out to be a speechless wonder. ''Please don't ask me questions, I am not a local, my election agent will answer your questions," he pleads when I meet him in the local party office.

Arun Kumar's election agent is Rajvansh Tewari, a garrulous gent. Spewing venom at the RJD candidate, Tewari maintains that the JD-U would triumph this time. "Do you know who is Surendra Yadav?" he asks dramatically, adding, "he is the former MLA from Belaganj and a wealthy contractor who warmed his way into Laloo's heart through money."

Tewari is critical of the local administration, claiming that only the Samata Party booths last year were graded by it as super-sensitive. This is blatantly unfair, he says and maintains that the administration "turns a blind eye to the rigging by the RJD." He alleges Surendra Yadav's victory last year was due to the ''understanding'' he had with the local administration.

At Nauri village near the Ram Lakhan Singh Yadav college, Ajay Kumar Verma, a Koeri, says many of his community members would like to vote fearlessly, but this is not possible. "We go to the booths but are told that our votes have already been cast. We want the deployment of paramilitary forces in all the booths. Otherwise elections are a farce," he says.

The CPI-ML candidate had gone to the Makdoompur segment to campaign. The party's state secretary Ram Jatan Sharma says Ramadhar Singh would give the two others a tough fight. "The poor and downtrodden in Jehanabad are fed up of the RJD and the JD-U. Laloo has turned class war into caste war and the JD-U candidate is linked to the Ranvir Sena. Here people know this and so they are coming to us," he says.

"Development in Jehanabad,'' Sharma concludes, ''has been non-existent because of the bourgeoise parties."

Of Bhumihars, bullets and the battle of the ballot


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